When I was kid, I remember my grandparents having a pendulum clock. I thought it was so cool that I could grab the pendulum to stop it from moving back and forth. When I let it go, it would slowly begin to build up momentum and start swinging again from side to side. This clock often comes to mind when I think about youth ministry and as I address questions regarding safe environment, oversight, etc. On the one hand we want to protect our youth, so we need to have guidelines and boundaries in place, but on the other, we don’t want so many limits that those involved have no freedom to do what they know needs to be done. It’s a difficult balance between too much control and too much freedom.
Another example from my own life that illustrates this principle was when I was 16 and my dad told me that he was no longer going to give me a curfew. I did, however, have to tell him where I was going. He knew me and my tendencies well enough by that point, and he wanted me to know that he trusted me but that he still had the right as my father to speak into my life. This is an example of good oversight and accountability while still providing freedom and communicating trust. I am sure it was difficult for him to let go of the control, but he knew it would give me the freedom to truly grow up as I needed to. Discipleship will require a greater deal of trust on our part, but also the expectation of greater responsibility on the part of the adults involved. If we can have faith in the adults we are working with and give them opportunities to “grow up” in ministry, we will gain much ground in the work we do in the Church. Here are a few tips for creating the atmosphere of trust, accountability, and freedom.
Keep The Rope Short At First
Entrusting and delegating a vision and responsibility to others takes time. Do not be afraid to over-communicate and expect dialogue in the beginning stages of forming your leaders. At first, you might expect them to communicate every detail of what they are doing with their groups and how things are going, but as time goes on and you develop greater trust in your adults, you can lighten up and give away some control.
Some leaders would actually prefer that you tell them what to do all the time. This can be a very bad thing. Your goal should be to equip leaders and give them the confidence they need to do it on their own. My dad, by forcing some responsibility on me, forced me to look at all of my decisions differently. Expect your leaders to learn how to observe situations and make decisions on their own rather than coming to you for everything. Helping them too much is not really helping at all.
Do Not Be Afraid to Discipline
While this post might seem to focus more on the necessity of giving adult leaders the freedoms they need to grow, I have often found it to be the case that many adults will require more control than they would like. Either they do not understand what is expected of them in this regard or they don’t respect your leadership. Do not be afraid to have conversations with these “rogue” adults. Like a child running into the street even after his father tells him not to, adults need to be formed. Lean in to this type of conflict and do not be afraid of it. In many situations, you may find it’s actually your own lack of leadership that is causing the leader to misunderstand what is expected. In situations where a leader is not receptive to authority over them, their freedoms should be taken away.
The role of parish coordinator should look very much like me as a child holding the pendulum on the clock, working to find the balance of too much control and too much freedom. The right adults, truly desiring to serve our Lord through youth discipleship, will find great freedom when this type of balance is in place. Much like the child given the boundaries within which to play, they will experience great freedom in knowing what they can and cannot do.